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Review: Tiny Metal

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Bigger than it lets on

It's been almost ten years since the last Advance Wars game (and nearly fifteen since the last really good one). Since Nintendo has all but abandoned the series in favor of its other turn-based tactics series Fire Emblem, it's now up to a few indie developers to pick up what the big N has left behind. It's a daunting task, and it's admirable that Tiny Metal (and others) are taking it on.

Tiny Metal takes that classic formula -- anime characters commanding a battalion, interconnected rock-paper-scissors interactions, and the horrors of war abstracted in an almost whimsical way -- and adds its own twists. The mechanics it brings to the table are enough to change the mental calculations and further the genre, but its roughness around the edges holds it back from achieving greatness.

Tiny Metal (PC, PS4, Switch [reviewed]) 
Developer: Area 35
Publisher: Unties
Released: December 21, 2017
MSRP: $24.99

Tiny Metal scratches that turn-based strategy itch (and especially the portable one on the Switch). Instead of just going with a carbon copy of what's been done before, it adds a few nice little quality-of-life improvements through additional commands. As expected, units move then attack or capture structures. On top of that, there are the "lock on" and "focus fire" commands, which allow two or more units to attack simultaneously, increasing the chance of wiping the defender entirely or at the very least limiting the counterattack to only one unit.

Then there's the "advance" command, which works like a regular attack, except the defender gets the first hit in while the attacker pushes the defender out of its territory. It's great for gaining extra ground and shutting down weakly-defended production buildings.

Other fun additions come in the arsenal of units available. Indirect units function as expected, allowing a move or an attack, but Tiny Metal shakes up the geometry of exactly what area they can cover. Sniper units are a great new addition, with an almost hybrid direct/indirect feel with the drawback that they can only target other infantry.

Outside of the solid base mechanics, things start to get a little shakier. Fog of war is mandatory, and as a point of pure personal preference, I'd rather it be used as a means for variety rather than being baked into the experience. The campaign levels often have hidden laboratories to find and explore, but these are at odds with the central conceit of achieving victory in the most efficient manner. Since most levels end when the last enemy unit is destroyed, I found myself whittling my opponent down to just a single unit, at which point I surrounded it with my own harmless units while I spent the next ten or so turns scouring every corner of the map and moving infantry units slowly over hills just to make sure I didn't miss anything. It's anticlimactic and un-fun, but I still felt compelled to do it for the rewards.

Worse is when I spent a fair amount of time doing that, only to end the mission prematurely with an accidental attack or by automatically capturing the enemy headquarters. Even worse is when I did everything right but the dang game just crashed. All in all I had Tiny Metal crash three times over the course of the campaign, which is three too many for a console title. To add insult to the injury of the crashes, every time the game starts, it goes through a minute-long unskippable cutscene before getting back into playing. It was cool to watch the first time, but painful every time after that.

The AI is usually fine, but sometimes it'll do some completely dumb things, like parking a radar unit (which can't attack) on a factory and just leaving it there, not only leaving an area defenseless but also preventing it from building up any defenses. The CPU-controlled infantry units also seem to have a bit of a death wish, often wiping themselves just to do a few percentage points of damage to a tank battalion.

Outside of battle, the plot setup has been done before (a neighboring country unexpectedly broke a truce and war ensued, but wait, it was actually a third party surreptitiously instigating). The dialogue is overwrought, the characters are one-dimensional, and the Japanese voice acting is overdramatic. Oh, and the translation/localization is poor; it's rife with typos and unnatural English. In a strange twist, all of the recorded battle dialogue is in English, and its quality varies wildly. I won't ever get sick of the gunship pilot humming "Ride of the Valkyries" or her nonchalant sadism, but I could go the entire rest of my life without hearing the tank driver say "wham, bam, thank you ma'am" again.

The campaign itself takes around 10-15 hours (depending on how meticulously one looks for hidden laboratories), but after that's done, there's still a ton of content to go through. With over 50 one-off skirmish maps and a New Game+ mode, it could easily take more than 100 hours to finish everything. The skirmish maps leave out all the unnecessary stuff and are better for it; they're more balanced than the campaign maps and as a result they're more challenging and more intrinsically rewarding. I'd almost prefer a game that were just the collection of skirmish maps.

That said, one of unfortunate omissions (at launch) from the skirmish maps is multiplayer. (It's listed as "coming soon.") We have all these great maps that play two-to-four armies, but currently only exist in single-player form. Heck, you don't even get to choose which of the four in-game factions to play as, but it's not like it matters since they're all basically identical. It's hard not to lament the lack of personality the different commanding officers had in the Advance Wars games, both mechanically and aesthetically. The four factions here are just palette swaps.

No, Tiny Metal is no substitute for Advance Wars. It does a lot of cool things, and it absolutely satisfies the same craving. But as much as I loved it at times, I hated it at others. It allows for pure turn-based strategy bliss, but there's a lot of garbage to sift through in order to get to it.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Tiny Metal reviewed by Darren Nakamura

5

MEDIOCRE

An exercise in apathy, neither solid nor liquid. Not exactly bad, but not very good either. Just a bit "meh," really.
How we score:  The destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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Darren Nakamura
Darren NakamuraAssociate Editor   gamer profile

Darren is a scientist during the day. He has been a Destructoid community member since 2006, joining the front page as a contributor in 2011. While he enjoys shooters, RPGs, platformers, strateg... more + disclosures


 


 


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